Handwara turned out to be the hot seat in the ongoing polls as former separatist Sajad Gani Lone contested the assembly elections for the first time. Sajad, the youngest son of assassinated separatist leader, Abdul Gani Lone, had earlier contested the Lok Sabha election in 2009, but lost.
Trying to revive the Lone legacy after over 12 years of his father's death, Sajad is hopeful of making at mark - if not in rest of the valley but at least in his father's bastion, Kupwara district. Sajad, the People's Conference chief, talked to Hindustan Times Srinagar bureau chief on the day that matters the most to him.
Q: Is 2014 assembly election a make or break for Sajad Lone?
A: It's a perception created by my rivals. Yes, this election is important but nothing is make or break in politics. It's a new phase of my life, I have campaigned for it very rigorously. I have supreme confidence that people will give us a chance.
Q: You are hopeful of this in-spite of your rivals talking about post-poll alliance with BJP?
A: I am aligning with BJP according to PDP and NC. They have started this campaign. I am confident people will see through this and I can assure you that in Handwara People's Conference will win with the biggest margin ever.
Q: But you have been seen getting close to BJP which is against Article 370 and you have been a great champion for the special status of Kashmir.
A: I can assure you in the coming days, there will be a new phase of advocacy - Kashmiri advocacy on my part. I have forgotten nothing, neither ASFPA nor Article 370. I don't believe in poll rhetoric and lies like the PDP and NC do. They talk about Article 370 and they are the ones who eroded it.
Q: Then why so much buzz about your meeting with the Prime Minister?
A: Haven't they (NC, PDP) met BJP leaders; and when a commoner like me meets the Prime Minister, they can't handle it. For two years my wife and children were in Pakistan, they weren't given visa. I tried really hard to meet the home minister, I wasn't allowed to. The last government was treating us like dirt. And now when I get an invite from the Prime Minister they create a ruckus.
Q In this election you have talked about ending dynasty rule, but aren't you living the legacy of your father.
A: Unlike them, I am have not been propped by my father. I am my dad's son, but I am a commoner who knew nothing and nobody when my father was killed. I have travelled 800 to 900 villages on foot to attain what I have now. When my father was killed, nobody was with us as we were not fighting elections. I had to start from scratch. Nobody mentored me, I have learnt only from my mistakes.
Q: It is said that your father wanted to contest elections before he was killed.
A: It is absolutely wrong. I spoke to my father a day before his death. He was absolutely clear, he was not contesting elections.
Q: Your father did not want to contest elections. He died a separatist. Then what is your justification of joining the electoral process.
A: What can the justification be? People's needs are multidimensional, political aspirations are a larger question. But they have to live; they want their unmet developmental needs to be fulfilled. A state has to function as an economic unit as well as a political unit. And I believe that with economic empowerment comes political empowerment.
Q: How do you reconcile what you advocated previously with your new political ambitions?
A: I was an outsider in the separatist camp, so I changed track to help my people. I will always be an extension of myself. When we cut our hair it grows back. My party will continue to strive to give teeth to Article 370 and raise all issues concerning people of Kashmir.